Rutgers Team Report

Greg Schiano is proud of what his Rutgers football team did last season, earning the program?s first winning season since 1992 and its first bowl game since 1978.

Proud. Very proud.

But that's the past.

"We're kinda not talking about last year," Schiano said Monday. "We're trying to focus on what we can this year."

The Knights finished 7-5 last year, their 4-3 league mark the first-ever winning season in Big East play for Rutgers. There was a 45-40 loss to Arizona State in the Insight Bowl, which made it three losses in the final four games. Still, nothing could taint what Rutgers was able to do last year.

And nothing should keep the Scarlet Knights from a second straight winning season. But it won't be easy out of the gate as they make a visit to North Carolina for Saturday's opener and then face Illinois at home (Rutgers lost in overtime at Illinois in last year's opener).

There was a time when playing the first two games of the season against the ACC and Big Ten might be daunting to Rutgers. But that was when they were still telling Rutgers football jokes. Those days are gone.

Schiano's current Knights are loaded with star power. He needs his new quarterback, Mike Teel, to come through, but the kid's not alone on an offense that includes All-Everything players like FB Brian Leonard and TE Clark Harris.

"Mike's done a good job," says Schiano. "He's grown up as a quarterback. He understands things much better. I think the biggest thing he understands is the play is not the last play -- you're going to get another chance."

In other words, the coach will be happy if the QB doesn't try to win the football game on every play.

The Knights weren't picked to challenge the top of the Big East standings, but that doesn't mean they won't win for a second straight season. Still, these first two games will tell a lot about what's going to happen.

Notes and Quotes
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With Mike Teel taking over for Ryan Hart at quarterback, the talented running attack of Brian Leonard and Ray Rice will see a lot of eight- and nine-man fronts as teams dare Teel to beat them. If Teel can deliver and do it early - like in the opener at North Carolina - it will free the runners to do their thing.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defensive front, which led the way as Rutgers led the Big East in sacks each of the last two seasons, has had to be rebuilt after some serious losses. The return of Eric Foster (Rutgers coach Greg Schiano calls him "a special football player"), lost for the season in just the second game last year, will have a lot to say about how well this group does. Rutgers is set with experience behind the front wall.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It doesn't really bother me when I hear people questioning whether I can do the job. But it does get repetitive. People keep saying the same thing, wondering the same thing. I feel I've done a lot this offseason to improve, but no one will know until game time. It has to translate into Saturday's and making plays." -Rutgers QB Mike Teel on taking over the starting job for the departed Ryan Hart.

Strategy and Personnel
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at North Carolina, Sept. 2 - Ever since the big move by three Big East teams to the ACC, there just seems to be more focus on games between teams from the two leagues - especially when teams appear to be evenly matched and could end up meeting in a bowl game. This is a huge game for Rutgers, which was able to shake off last year's opening OT loss at Illinois to go on to a 7-5 season, but there's a new quarterback now and Mike Teel needs a good start.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Mike Teel -- The numbers from last year were hardly anything to get excited about: 51-for-101, 683 yards, only two touchdowns and a whopping 10 interceptions. But Teel has been improving and appears ready to take over the big stage.

FB Brian Leonard - You don't often hear that much about a team's fullback, but this gutsy guy makes the Scarlet Knights go. He finished third in the league last year in all-purpose yardage (1,308), running for 740 yards and 11 touchdowns and catching 55 passes for 568 yards and six TDs.

WR Willie Foster - We love TE Clark Harris, but Foster might be the most exciting player in the Big East. He's the reigning Special Teams Player of the Year and look for him to become a more serious deep threat in a group that lost Tres Moses.

ROSTER REPORT: Rutgers coach Greg Schiano had K Jeremy Ito do some punting as a challenge to incumbent Joe Radigan. The latter apparently held off the competition and will kick for a fourth year.

--Freshman LB George Johnson was bothered by a back problem.

--Defensive back Robert Bahan, who missed all of last season with a hip problem, had yet to return.

--WR Keith Taylor was lost for the season with shoulder surgery.

--Other than the above, RU coach Greg Schiano says, "There are guys fighting through some stuff but I don't think we have anybody who will kept out of long-term action."

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